March 2, 2002
By MIKE BRANOM
Associated Press Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. - Sidney Green needed just three seasons to take Florida Atlantic from worst to first.
Raheim Brown had 19 points and eight rebounds and the Owls beat Georgia State 76-75 Saturday to win the Atlantic Sun championship and earn its first trip to the NCAA tournament.
Earnest Crumbley added 15 points for third-seeded Florida Atlantic (19-11), which let a five-point lead slip away over the last 1:27.
The Owls' conference title caps off a remarkable resurgence orchestrated by Green, who played 10 seasons in the NBA for six teams. In his first two seasons, FAU won a total of nine games.
"We've worked extremely hard since Day 1," Green said. "We all remember where this program was two years ago - 2-28, 7-24. It was a big hill to climb.
"We knew how hard it was going to be, but we really stayed with it."
The game came down to the buzzer, as Robert Williams, a 49 percent free throw shooter, broke a 75-all tie by making the second of two free throws with 6.1 seconds left.
Top-seeded Georgia State (20-10) had a chance to win, but Lamont McIntosh's full-speed leaner in the lane rimmed out and when the Panthers couldn't come up with the ball, the Owls stormed the court.
"It's unbelievable," said Brown, who was a prep star at nearby Colonial High School in Orlando.
Terrell Thomas had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Panthers, who won the league's automatic bid last season when it was known as the Trans-America Athletic Conference.
Thomas, named tournament MVP for the second straight year, averaged 29.3 points and 10 rebounds in the tournament's three games.
McIntosh added 19 points but committed eight turnovers for Georgia State, which was trying to get coach Lefty Driesell into the NCAA tournament for the 14th time.
"I still feel that we should get an at-large bid rather than ... the fifth- or sixth-place team from the ACC or Big East," Driesell said. "Our RPI is low, but we beat Georgia, we beat Saint Joseph's on a neutral court. We've won 11 of our last 13."
The Owls didn't just deny Georgia State a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament, but also kept Driesell from winning his 100th game at the school.
"This is what I don't like about tournaments," Driesell said. "We win the regular season and we've got to come in here and win again. It's discouraging, though I've been in this situation many times."
On Florida Atlantic's winning possession, Crumbley penetrated the lane and dished the ball to Williams. As Williams was preparing a 12-foot jumper from straightaway, McIntosh fouled him.
"When I went to the line, I was praying," Williams said. "I said, 'Lord, let me make one of these free throws.' The first one was short, but I knew the second one was going in."
Crumbley's 3-pointer had given the Owls a 75-70 lead with 1:27 to play. That play was set up by McIntosh's turnover, the Panthers' 19th of the game.
"We turned the ball over a lot, and I was probably the main culprit," McIntosh said. "I take a lot of the blame myself, being the point guard. I didn't handle that the way I should have."
But Georgia State came back as McIntosh drilled a 3-pointer 14 seconds later and Terrell tied it with two free throws with 38 seconds remaining.
The tie was the 10th of the game and sixth of the second half.